Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Influences of the past: Lessons from New Wine Commune

Are you a coffee snob? 

I am. It’s one of the things that life in the co-op taught me: grind your own beans!

I lived in the New Wine Commune for almost 4 years during my undergrad studies.  At the time, in my mind it was nothing more than a logical way to live cheaply and close to campus. Looking back, I realize it was so much more than just cheap rent and a cool old house.  I wish I had appreciated it then as much as I do now.   An indescribable experience, really, sharing this beautiful turn-of-the-century home and the joys and sorrows of life with 7 other very amazing and brilliant people who were my house mates.  It was the closest thing to family I'd ever experienced, and the longest I'd ever lived in one place in my lifetime up to that point.  I am extremely sentimental about that house and the people who lived there with me during my time there.  It seems like it was a lifetime ago, and my world has absolutely no resemblance to what it was like at that time. There's no comparison, and I adore my current life more than anything that's come before it.  Yet, sometimes my heart still aches for those days.  

When I packed up and moved out, it was a very significant closing of a chapter of my life.  The woman who walked down those front porch stairs for the last time in the summer of '97 was forever changed from the girl who had first walked up them, nearly 4 years earlier.  I climbed the stairway with trepidation on that first day, with my black & blue hair,  worn out, secondhand clothes, and high hopes for the future.  I grew up considerably in that co-op.  I'm certainly not that optimistic liberal punk rock girl anymore.   Much of what I took away from that time has been stored away in some deep part of me, and I only reflect upon it on a rare occasion when something in the present triggers a memory.   Still,  I'm grateful for the things I learned and the influences of the people I was with during my time there.  It was certainly a catalyst for who I am today.  (Isn't that true of all our past lives?)

Oh, but that HOUSE.  How can I possibly explain how much I love the house itself?   My pulse quickens on the occasions that I drive by and see it- always making a quick mental assessment of what's still the same and what's changed on the exterior.  Always wondering what's still the same and how much has changed on the inside.   It would have been unfathomable to me how much of a bond one can create with a BUILDING if it weren't my own experience.  There are times when I still live there in my dreams, and times that my heart aches for the comfort that those walls created for me during that time in my life.  It will always be a symbol of what I consider to be the "winding down" of my youth.   For me, 123 West Gorham will always represent a fortress of joy. I grew up there, and a part of me will live there, always.

Other lessons I took from living in New Wine: co-op life is the way to go in college; how to plan, prepare and cook for 8-10 people (after leaving there, it took some time to adjust to cooking for just 1 or 2); composting, although practical, is pretty disgusting business (NO orange peels in the compost bin!); it IS possible to live harmoniously with seven other people (and actually love them dearly and enjoy it most of the time); cast iron pans truly are wonderful; black eyed peas can be delicious. 

...Life at New Wine has given me a near-obsessive love and appreciation of the distinguishing charms of a Victorian house. Servant’s stairs that lead up to the second level from the kitchen.  The old coal chute in the basement.  The second-floor balcony that was a perfect retreat during my many nights of insomnia.   Pocket doors to close off the drawing room.   Elaborately carved wooden trim and crown moldings.  The large, iron grates in the floor from the old coal furnace heating system.   The coal fireplace in the dining room.  The bathroom in the kitchen. Tiny ceramic floor tiles in the bathrooms and wizened, well-worn old hardwood floors in every room. The tiny nursery that at one time used to be adjoined to my old bedroom, allowing the nanny evening access to the babes in the house. The front porch! I cannot guess the number of hours I spent there, recounting the day with my house mates,  smoking, or reading, or just sitting and watching people pass by.   But I am sure the actual total would be surprising to me. I love that house so much and still remember every inch of it. 

For those of you who are lucky to be current residents- Treat It Well!

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